UPPER SADDLE RIVER, NJ - It is now a early-season holiday tradition.
The Blake Classic started a decade ago to honor a special individual. Mike Blake played football and basketball at Northern Highlands High School in Allendale. The indelible mark he left though was in coaching youth teams in the area. Wins and losses are measurable. Mike Blake’s contributions were far beyond that.
The tournament remembering him features fourth through eighth-grade divisions on both the boys’ and girls’ sides. It comes right after Thanksgiving and Black Friday. The weeklong tournament is held at three schools encompassing Allendale and Upper Saddle River, both Northern New Jersey suburbs.
The journey to the games reminds us very well it is the Christmas season. Weekday night and Saturday afternoon games mean negotiating the maze of traffic around the malls. Sunday (Bergen County has blue laws) calls for a more relaxed journey, as one can actually see the communities decorating in full force.
Virtually the same teams are in each year. Occasionally, some make the trip from another area for one or two tournaments before moving on. The common denominator of all this is good competition. As the teams enter their CYO and travel leagues, the Blake is a nice tune up or test to see where they stand.
Tradition is a constant, as following each game, the coach picks an opposing team’s MVP to award a medal. It is not uncommon for players and coaches, even on the side that came up short, to say thank you to the officials. The day of the finals brings trophies to both finalists. No tears for runners-up, as they know there is still a full season ahead. Trophies, shirts and the obligatory pictures await the champions.
The final note, the personnel at the scorer’s table, volunteers at refreshment stands and so many that make this a special and well-run event deserve utmost praise and recognition. On the officiating side, it is always an honor to be part of. Mike Blake himself would be so proud of this tournament, very deserving of the classic label.
St. Margaret's eighth-grade girls in a late game huddle:
The Blake insignia at two of the Upper Saddle River sites:
A trophy awaits:
Sixth-grade girls' champion Upper Saddle River:
Ridgewood's fifth-grade girls in a postgame huddle:
Parents line up for obligatory postgame photos:
Upper Saddle River's Travers Gym, site of all four championship games: